The Truth About Cars » PR The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 14 Jul 2014 16:00:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » PR GAC Hopes Transformers Appearance Means US Sales Next Year Mon, 30 Jun 2014 10:00:50 +0000 trumpchi-gs5-002-1

Aside from seeing another Hasbro IP cameo transform into a weapon of mass destruction, viewers at the weekend opening of “Transformers: Age of Extinction” may have also glimpsed the first Chinese vehicle to arrive in the United States in the near future.

Autoblog reports director Michael Bay chose Chinese brand Trumpchi to be involved in the latest film upon seeing its E-jet PHEV and asking if the PHEV could be used in said film. Parent automaker Guangzhou Automobile Group Co Ltd hopes the exposure will help them when (or if) they bring a few of its Trumpchis to the U.S. by 2015 at the earliest.

The first to be sent over via container ship is the GS5 SUV, which can be had in China for as low as ¥148,000 ($24,000 USD). Power comes from either a 2-liter four-pot providing 145 horses and 128 lb-ft of torque, or a 1.8-liter turbo-four delivering 174 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque. The SUV can either be had with FWD or AWD, and power can be processed through a five-speed manual or automatic.

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US Politicians Appeal To Base Through Humble Vehicles Fri, 20 Jun 2014 13:10:29 +0000 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior

As campaign season rolls out, politicians are appealing to their constituents — or at least, trying to appeal to them — by appearing to be on their level, including their choice of vehicle that they otherwise may have traded in for a Lexus or Mercedes a long time ago in their political career.

Bloomberg reports candidates are trading in their luxury rides for image-building vehicles such as Chevrolet Silverados, Harley-Davidson Road Kings, Toyota Prii, or — if vehicles in general would negatively affect their campaigning — the Shoe Leather Express. The strategy is meant to bring an air of humility on the campaign trail, which is needed to counter the charge that those who work on Capitol Hill are out of touch with the people they represent.

Aside from those who already see this tool through a cynical lens, vehicular appeal can have its drawbacks. In his failed bid for presidency, 1988 Democrat nominee Michael Dukakis turned up in a tank to appeal to those who heavily support the military. While the tactic worked for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and despite his service in the United States Army, the photo-op turned into a tool for opponent George Bush’s campaign, lambasting Dukakis for looking silly.

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2015 Jaguar F-Type Coupe to Debut at LA Auto Show Wed, 06 Nov 2013 14:11:08 +0000 F Type Coupe

For those of us who love the Jaguar’s F-Type’s zazz but would prefer to keep the wind out of our hair (along with the rain, sleet and snow) on a more permanent basis, Jaguar now has an option for you.

The hardtop iteration of the British-Indian automaker’s halo car will make its global debut in Los Angeles November 19 at an exclusive party for VIP customers and media types prior to taking the floor at the LA Auto Show a day later.

Though little is known about what’s under the bonnet or the glass roof panels, the all-aluminium cat most likely won’t have the C-X16′s KERS-inspired hybrid drivetrain. Rumors are abundant that a manual gearbox will debut along with the coupe. The coupe will debut in showrooms across the United States in the spring of 2014.

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Kia K900 To Debut at LA Auto Show Tue, 29 Oct 2013 15:16:28 +0000 20120527_kia_k9_1Over a month ago, we brought you news on the upcoming arrival of Kia’s rear-driven K900 sometime in early 2014. If you can’t wait to see the car in the flesh, however, the car will make its debut in November during the Los Angeles Auto Show.

The brief press release issued by Kia claims the K900 (otherwise known as the K9 in its home market, and the Quoris in export markets not known as the United States) will allow the automaker to “take value to new levels of sophistication,” positioning the car as their flagship among the Fortes and hamster-piloted, Lady Gaga-blasting Souls normally found on the lots.

Though the release didn’t specify beyond stating that the K900 will have either a V6 or V8 driving the power to the back, the flagship sedan will possess a 3.8-liter V6 pushing 240 horses out of the stable with a larger V8 bringing 420 wild stallions to the party, both attached to an eight-speed automatic.

The K900 is set to take dead aim at the BMW 7 Series, just in time for your next high school reunion under the serious moonlight. Price of admission is expected to be between $50,000 and $70,000, with a big campaign to debut during Super Bowl XLVIII in February 2014.

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Former Apple VP To Aid Vehicle Development At Tesla Fri, 25 Oct 2013 14:16:44 +0000 tesla-model-sa_rIt seems as of late that Tesla is becoming to cars what Apple already is to computing, smartphones, digital music players and tablets. Thus, it should be as no surprise that the automaker has brought aboard former Apple vice president of Mac hardware engineering Doug Field to help them develop “insanely great” new vehicles.

“Doug has demonstrated the leadership and technical talent to develop and deliver outstanding products, including what are widely considered the best computers in the world,” said Tesla CEO Elon Musk in a press release. Musk went further to state that the future of the automaker is dependent upon engineering talents — such as the kind Field would bring to the table — that can help bring “the most innovative, technologically advanced vehicles in the world” to the masses, especially the kind that will be sold for $35,000 at the nearest Tesla boutique in the near future.

Field’s latest foray in the tech world marks a return to the automotive industry: His career began with Ford as an engineer, then a turn as CTO for Segway before segueing to One Infinite Loop in 2008. From there, Field led development on the MacBook Air and Pro, and the iMac.

“Until Tesla came along, I had never seriously considered leaving Apple,” said Field in the same press release. “I started my career with the goal of creating incredible cars, but ultimately left the auto industry in search of fast-paced, exciting engineering challenges elsewhere. As the first high tech auto company in modern history, Tesla is at last an opportunity for me and many others to pursue the dream of building the best cars in the world-while being part of one of the most innovative companies in Silicon Valley.”

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Elon Musk Buys 007 Submarine, Will Attempt To Make It Functional Fri, 18 Oct 2013 13:42:45 +0000 800px-TSWLM-LotusEsprit

Elon Musk, the real-life Tony Stark of our times, has quite the extensive résumé: Founder of PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors; billionaire investor of projects and businesses such as SolarCity and the preservation of Nikola Tesla’s lab; inventor of the Hyperloop rapid mass transit concept; 007 cosplayer…

Yes, you read that right: Musk is a huge fan of the man who loves his martinis shaken and his women to have double entendre naming schemes. So much so, in fact, that he now has one of Bond’s most awesome vehicles ever conceived.

In a double exclusive with our friends over at Jalopnik, the secret buyer of the Lotus Esprit Mk I-cum-submarine from the 1977 Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me” was Musk himself, who paid nearly $900,000 for the privilege of owning one of the most famous vehicles in the history of film, beating out another bidder in a duel worthy of a Bond film (or so we would hope). The star car — or, rather, the star submarine — was originally lost in storage limbo, then discovered, spruced up, and put up for auction by Canadian auction house RM Auctions in early September of this year.

Alas, Musk was a bit disappointed that all the Esprit did was look pretty and float, but since this is Musk we’re talking about (via Tesla’s PR department)…

It was amazing as a little kid in South Africa to watch James Bond in “The Spy Who Loved Me” drive his Lotus Esprit off a pier, press a button and have it transform into a submarine underwater. I was disappointed to learn that it can’t actually transform. What I’m going to do is upgrade it with a Tesla electric powertrain and try to make it transform for real.

If his SpaceX can successfully dock with the International Space Station, and his Tesla can make EVs cool (the first was based off the Lotus Elise, no less), then Musk can make this impossible dream possible. We look forward to seeing his car arrive at San Diego Comic Con 2014 via Pacific Beach in all of its glory.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Jeep® Cherokee Embargo! Cripes! Alright, TTAC Busts It Sat, 23 Feb 2013 04:43:49 +0000

Chrysler sure knows how to get the attention of the autoblogosphere. It’s not just that they send out pictures of a new car, along with a titillating come-on embargo. Oh, no: They do it not one, but several better. TTAC is in receipt of a Chrysler-internal email, along with userid and password to a site where secret pictures of the Jeep Cherokee are stored, along with the admonition that “anything you have heard or seen is still embargoed, until the day of the reveal, Wed., March 27 (at 12:01 am EST).” What do we do now?

Of course, we do our journalistic duty. In the name of the first amendment, we assert our constitutional right and publish the darned pictures, especially now that everybody else did. We also would like to take the opportunity to  state that the name Jeep® Cherokee is instantly recognizable as the most capable and versatile mid-size SUV in the world. For 2014, Jeep brings the Cherokee name back to North America with the debut of its all-new mid-size sport-utility vehicle.

 If you think that this sounds like lifted from a press release, then you are darn right. It was part of the confidential email.

You want the userid and password, you say? Bah! We are professionals, and we do not reveal our sources.

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Emission-Free Pope Thu, 06 Sep 2012 15:26:06 +0000 Renault has outmaneuvered partner Daimler, which didn’t have a prayer. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn handed Pope Benedict XVI (nee Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger) a new, fully sustainable electric popemobile.
It is unclear whether the public will see an emission-free pope. According to a Renault press release, the holy EV is for use when the Pope is travelling at his summer residence Castel Gandolfo.

Actually, two popemobiles were received.

The first one is white with the Papal coat of arms depicted on the doors. Based on the Kangoo Maxi Z.E., it measures 4.6 meters in length and 1.8 meters in width. It is powered by a 44kW (60hp) electric motor and a lithium-ion battery which is good for an average NEDC combined-cycle range of 170km.

The design of the other vehicle is very similar to that of the first, although its blue livery features a white and yellow stripe along each flank. It is for use by the Corps of Gendarmerie Corps of Vatican City for the Pope’s security.

The two cars were converted by the French coachbuilder Gruau.

The pope usually travels  in a white popemobile,  which is based on the Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Possibly he keeps it for pangs of range anxiety. But with a direct line to God …

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Love Me Render, Love Me True, All My Dreams Fulfilled Sat, 01 Sep 2012 13:00:23 +0000

As a moderator on a Golf/GTI forum, the past weeks have been overrun with posts like ”THE REAL GOLF MKVII!!” with information inside saying it will have 600 horsepower, 12 transmission options, and the ECU will call the FBI if you attempt to tune it. They are always accompanied by an image that is as authentic to reality as a photo of Sadam’s secret WMD garage.

Lastly, they always link back to a few usual suspects. These are blogs that drive clicks by praying on that very instinct we have to try and find our hidden present. They have goofy names, intrusive advertising, and (until recently) it seemed they all had white or red text on a black background. They are the ones that ran the picture of the Focus RS in Detroit as proof it IS coming here. These are the dregs of automotive ”journalism.”

One of the best things in life is anticipation. From wondering what your parents got you for your birthday; to seeing what girls are in a college class on the first day of the semester; to the moment before your wife walks down the aisle when you are getting married, anticipation is simultaneously one of the most pleasurable and most frustrating emotions we experience. Yet it truly makes the experience so much more exciting.

Some of my strongest memories are when my parents rolling out a Gulf Liveried Pedal Car on an early birthday; or the feeling of excitement realizing a beautiful woman is in one of your classes (only to figure out that you walked into the wrong one, even though you were a senior); to the overwhelming joy of seeing that same woman turn the corner to walk down the aisle to you. All of these events are memorable in their own right, but the addition of that anticipation increase the emotional response tenfold.

Anyone in sales knows this. Float a product as an idea, follow up a short time later with a potential feature set, accidentally show an outline, release the real thing to an anxious public. Automakers are particularly adept at this.

Yet we are impatient. How many times did you try and find your birthday present? Or ask a friend that works in the registrar ”who’s in my class?” Or ask your new sister-in-law ”how does she look?” Enter the automotive render and the speculative blog/forum post.

Now, I love speculation as much as the next (car) guy. Give me some data to work with, I am happy to discuss (at length) what strategic moves company X should take to ensure their survival past a date of Y. Or why company Z would be nuts to not bring (or to bring) a certain vehicle to North America. Often I am wrong, but the conversations can be interesting, engaging, and fun. Yet when I am speculating, I am not presenting this exercise as anything but speculation. It’s not ”I have it on good authority” or ”sources say.” It’s simply speculation,  and it should always be presented as such.

Their speculation and images are driven by a desire to increase page views rather than to provide a service. They, frankly, contribute nothing to the community. We can combat their dreck; refute it, ignore it, ridicule it.

Let’s enjoy the anticipation. Let’s wait until our birthday to unwrap that present.

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Ford Flubs Focus First, Fixes, Fails, Falls Flat Sat, 01 Sep 2012 05:35:08 +0000

These F-words were brought to you by Ford. Yesterday, Ford’s 350 millionth vehicle rolled off the lines. It was a Ford Focus, and an occasion to celebrate an even more auspicious record: The Ford Focus “is the world’s best-selling car for the first half of 2012,” says a Ford press release. Media from Associated Press to Autoblog obediently announced the record. The record went down in a hail of protests.

The Wall Street Journal deemed it below its ethics to parrot a press release and asked questions. Answers in hand, they write:

“The company announced on Friday that through seven months of 2012, the car had sold 522,000 units around the world, making it the best-selling single nameplate vehicle, ahead of the Toyota Corolla and Volkswagen Golf. Outselling the Corolla, which similarly is a model sold around the world, would be a great accomplishment for Ford.

But according to Toyota, the Focus actually hasn’t outsold the Corolla. Through that same seven-month period, it said it has sold 722,000 vehicles. Ford, when notified about the difference, said they made a mistake and issued a new press release, saying they actually sold 489,616 units in a six month period – not seven months – and the Toyota Corolla had sold 462,187 units. They also, in the new release, attributed those numbers to IHS Automotive, an independent auto research and forecasting firm that tracks data like global sales.”

That should settle it, no? No, says the WSJ.

Toyota says it sold 603,840 in that same six-month period. Which would give the Corolla a slight lead of 114,224 units over the Focus. IHS and Ford overlooked what is familiar to TTAC readers: The Corolla goes by different names in different countries, where it is known as the Matrix, Corolla Axio, Corilla Fielder, Corolla Rumion, and we possibly missed some.

Even if you only count global sales of the Corolla sedan and Auris hatchback, the two body styles available on the globally-sold Focus, that would give 524,000 units to the Corolla, which would still be ahead of the Focus, says Toyota.

Ford should know better than to rely on IHS Automotive. Its predecessor, IHS Global Insight, once received the nickname “Global Oversight” in the business for consistently erroneous numbers. In November 2009, IHS Global Oversight infamously crowned Volkswagen as the World’s largest automaker. A month later, Volkswagen ended the year correctly in place 3.

IHS concedes that its worldview is a bit blurred, as its numbers cover only 90% of the world and “the 10 percent that we miss out on may be in countries where Toyota is strong,” Christopher Hopson of IHS told the Journal.

In the end, muses a gracious Wall Street Journal, “it’s fair to say both companies are selling a lot of cars, even if no one can agree on how many.”

Bloomberg, after first buying into Ford’s 489,616 Focus vs. 462,187 Corollas story,  has second thoughts.  In a new story, the wire correctly reports that Ford and Toyota  “are each saying they produce the best-selling car in the world in the first half. Their definitions are the key.”

PS: Flagwavers, take note: The 350 millionth Ford and allegedly best-selling Focus rolled off the assembly lines in Thailand, at Ford’s Rayong plant.

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GM’s Alternate Reality: UK Calls Volt/Ampera Ad Misleading, Bans It Thu, 23 Aug 2012 11:03:21 +0000


You can see this ad. Television viewers in the UK can’t.  The Chevrolet Volt  is sold in the UK as the Vauxhall Ampera, and its ad has been banned by the UK Advertising Standards Authority. It says the ad is misleading. The ad claims a 360-mile range. GM is a serial offender when it comes to alternate realities, and this ad is the latest installment.

Says the Daily Mail:

The real range of the electric batteries in the Vauxhall Ampera is a rather more modest 50 miles. And to go beyond that, it relies on help from a somewhat less green source – a petrol engine.”

The ad, created by long-time GM agency McCann Erickson, came complete with the usually hard to read and even harder to comprehend disclaimer:

“Comparison based on electric vehicles and extended range electric vehicles driven electrically at all times, even when an additional power source is generating electricity”.

The advertising standards bureau did not buy into it. Says the ruling:

“We considered that throughout the ad the emphasis was on the fact that the car was being driven electrically, and that most viewers would not understand that the car was in some circumstances being powered by electricity generated with a petrol engine. The ad promoted an innovative product which many viewers would not immediately understand and we therefore considered that it would need to explicitly state that the car had a petrol engine. Because it did not clearly explain how the vehicle worked in extended-range mode, we concluded that the ad was misleading.”

The ASA does not parse an ad through the eyes of a lawyer, or through the eyes of GM apologists and amateur spinmeisters. The ASA sees it through the eyes of the ad’s target, the average consumer. That consumer is being fooled. Using imagery of plugs and cables, and the slogan “Driving electricity further”, the ad pushes electric range, and that range simply isn’t 360 miles on pure electricity.

This isn’t the first time that GM got into hot water with its allegedly clever, but in truth ham-fisted public relations. Last March, the language police embedded in new and old media feigned outrage over a Chevy Volt ad that claims that the car can save “a crapload of money.”  TTAC was less upset about the robust language, but challenged the claim. Even after the $7,500 credit, the Volt is overpriced. When Tony Posawatz was still line director of the Volt, he told Bloomberg in an interview that there is no such thing as a crapload of savings:

“The Volt’s cost of ownership matches the average car when including the $7,500 U.S. tax incentive and gasoline fuel savings.”

That remark clashed with the advertising claims, and possibly ended Tony’s career. In June, Posawatz left GM into early retirement, only to land at Fisker as its new CEO.

In 2010, then CEO Ed Whitacre claimed in an ad that GM paid back its “loan, in full, with interest, years ahead of schedule.” Even the Detroit News, by some regarded as the in-house organ of GM, had issues with the ad and said it “glosses over the reality.” Congressman Darrell Issa said the ad brought GM “dangerously close to committing fraud.” The Competitive Enterprise Institute filed a deceptive advertising complaint with the FTC. GM stopped running the ad.

CEI also filed a Freedom of Information request with the Department of Treasury. The statutory period for a response to an FOI request is 20 days, Treasury took a year. After a review of the documents, the CEI says “that General Motors and the Obama administration coordinated their PR strategy regarding GM’s much criticized 2010 ad campaign, in which the car maker misleadingly claimed to have repaid all its government loans.”

In all three cases, the claims were technically true, but they created an untrue perception. The Vauxhall Ampera, a rebadged Chevrolet Volt that is sold in the rest of Europe as the Opel Ampera, technically has a 360 mile range on electricity, but only when the gasoline motor is running. The Volt technically saves a shitload of money, but only if you disregard the price of the car, and only if you don’t take it farther than the grocery store. GM technically repaid the $7 billion loan part of the government’s $50 billion investment, but forgets the $43 billion balance, and ignores that the equity part today translates into “an unrealized loss of $16.4 billion,” if Forbes is correct.

Perception is reality. These allegedly “clever” ads bank on the stupidity of the viewer. While technically true under a high powered magnifying glass, they attempt to create an alternate reality that is far from the truth. People don’t like it when they find out that they have been had.

As a former GM owner, I say: Don’t get smart with me, GM. Get real.

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Fired Ewanick’s Soccer Deal Backfires: Manchester United Fans Boycott Chevy Fri, 03 Aug 2012 18:03:27 +0000

Devotees of the Manchester United soccer club call for a boycott of the products made by the club’s sponsors. This famously includes Chevrolet. Last Monday, GM signed a seven year contract with Manchester United. A day before, GM’s Chief Marketing Executive Joel Ewanick, the architect of the deal, was fired. Manchester United supporters are opposed to their club going public on Wall Street. To put pressure on the Glazer family to ditch the plan, they ask the public to stay clear of the products of the club’s sponsors.

According to Reuters, “the call risks embarrassing the club just days after it signed a record-breaking shirt sponsorship deal with U.S. auto company General Motors.” According to TTAC, this can’t be good for Chevrolet and the people responsible for the deal.

The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) accused the Glazers of hurting the team’s performance by saddling it with debt in a $1.23 billion takeover in 2005. MUST has around 180,000 members.



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What Do AIG And GM Have In Common? TARP, And Sponsorship Of Manchester United Tue, 31 Jul 2012 17:30:39 +0000

While bloggers and the MSM are gobbling up the red herrings served by the deep throats at GM, some people are connecting the dots. They even drew a map. If you are concerned about U.S. taxpayer’s money leaving for Old Blighty, you want to read on. Don’t do it on an empty stomach. Or maybe do. You will want to puke.

Relationship mapping site Muckety connected the dots and revealed that it is not the first time that the British soccer club Manchester United is at the receiving end of American tax payer money. “While the federal bailout may or may not have saved the American auto industry, it’s doing wonders for English football,” says Muckety. “Before its collapse, American International Group also had a marketing deal with Manchester. The insurance giant would later be propped up by $182 billion in federal aid.”

Even the usually staid Marketwatch can’t hold the snark down and says: “One of England’s most popular soccer teams appears to have a soft spot — right in the center of its jerseys — for the U.S. taxpayer.”

Does it hurt to see hundreds of millions of sponsor money desert the All-American sport of football and go to an obscure sport and a country which had burned the nation’s capital down? Don’t worry, the money will come right back.

The owner of Manchester United is Floridian Malcolm Glazer. He bought the British club for £790 million. But, says the London Telegraph, “instead of paying with cash, or with a small and manageable amount of debt, the Glazers slammed a massive mortgage on Manchester United and leveraged it to the hilt.”

You may puke now, because it is getting worse.

In a filing to the SEC,  it was disclosed  that “six lineal descendants of Malcolm Glazer” used the soccer club as an ATM. £10 million (nearly $16 million) were loaned to Glazer’s children “for general personal purposes.” That in addition to £13.2 million (nearly $21 million) in management fees paid from 2009 – 2011 to  Glazer-owned holding company Red Football LLC. But fear not, the loans were paid back “in connection with the £10.0 million dividend distributed to our principal shareholder on April 25, 2012,”  as the SEC document states.  So there is a company that is nearly suffocating under a £423 million ($664 million) debt pile, and the company can afford a dividend payment that just happens to be big enough to wipe out the Glazer children’s debt.

Chronicling all the financial shenanigans surrounding the club that will be synonymous with Chevrolet for seven years is beyond the scope of this car site. Reuters did a better  job anyway.  If you want the British perspective of the shenanigans, read the Guardian.  Once you have read the stories, you will be astounded that GM would approach the soccer club with anything shorter than the proverbial  10 foot pole.

Done puking? Ok, there is more.

To reduce the mountain of debt, Glazer is taking the company public. The IPO is planned for the end of the year, but it doesn’t seem to be going too well.  It probably crosses your mind now that a $600 million sponsorship deal, big enough to wipe out the club’s debt, could be somehow beneficial for the IPO? You are not alone with that thought. Still snarky, Marketwatch writes:

“Securing long-term sponsorship is doubtless helpful to reassuring payroll concerns. And who knows? Europe may prove a more receptive market for all those Chevy Volts than the U.S. has so far.”

The thought may also cross you mind that Malcolm Glazer could be a donor to certain political parties, and that there is some roundabout deal going on. We did the checking for you. Public records identify Malcolm Glazer, his lineal descendants and people surnamed Glazer as generous donors to worthy political causes, (such as $20,000 to the DNC Service Corp.).  The money was spread to both sides of the aisle, the donkey side received the jumbo share though.

P.S.: I lied when I said the money would come right back to America. Like any patriot who wants to save taxes, Glazer registered the soon public Manchester United company in the Cayman Islands.

P.P.S: In a press release, GM makes Ewanick-successor Alana Batey say the lines which probably were written for Ewanick:

“We are extremely proud to connect our brand, Chevrolet, with Manchester United and its passionate supporters all around the world.  Manchester United’s statistics are impressive, but this relationship goes far beyond the numbers – this relationship is about connecting our brand with the deep-seated emotion that surrounds the team everywhere it goes.”

Indeed, the fit is perfect.

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GM Fires Marketing Chief For Soccer Deal, Then Signs It Tue, 31 Jul 2012 13:10:27 +0000

One day after  GM’s  Chief Marketing Executive Joel Ewanick was fired for failing ” to meet the expectations that the company has for its employees,” one day after it was leaked like from a fire hose that there were shady going ons between Ewanick and the Manchester United soccer club, GM signed a seven year contract with just the same soccer club. A day after the ouster of a marketing chief who was tasked with saving billions, GM paid, according to Reuters,  “twice as much as the team’s previous automotive sponsor” for putting “Chevrolet” on the team’s jerseys. Does this pass the smell test?

Officially, no reason is given for Ewanick’s ouster, except for the both mean-spirited and hamfisted not meeting of expectations. Unofficially, dirt is being thrown after Ewanick.

“Sources” told Reuters that “Ewanick didn’t properly report financial details about the jersey deal.” In the business, those anonymous sources are nearly always inside the company, and in 9 out of ten cases, the source is a company spokesman who prefaced what he said to the reporter with a “don’t quote me on that, but …”

Other sources, this time “some industry officials” (code for people outside of the company) don’t buy the story:

“While GM would not discuss Ewanick’s departure, some industry officials said a deal as big as the Manchester United sponsorship agreements would have been signed by multiple executives. They also raised the possibility that GM simply wanted to dump Ewanick as the automaker’s U.S. market share has declined by nearly 2 points in the first half of 2012 compared with the year before to 18.1 percent.”

I don’t know how they do it at GM, but at every large corporation I know, the CEO is intimately involved in the decision and deal making that precedes a major sponsorship deal.   The CEO would be involved even more so when the company pays twice the going rate.

Oh, and what about the improper dealings? “The wording of the affected deal terms was changed before the deal was made public on Monday,” a source that was “not authorized to discuss contract details” (code: insider for sure) told Reuters.

I don’t know how they do it at GM, but at every large corporation I know, if there is a deal with an impropriety huge enough to fire the marketing chief, that deal won’t get signed, and the police will get called instead.

We have yet to know for what marketing disaster Ewanick was fired. The much bigger PR disaster stares us right into the eye.

Even the usually fiercely loyal Detroit Free Press won’t buy into the amateurish attempts at spin:

“Issues with soccer deals are just a diversion from the real reason Ewanick was forced to resign, his inability to maintain or increase market share under his leadership, say GM marketing officials and advertising leaders familiar with the company. They didn’t want to be identified because they’re not authorized to speak about personnel issues.”

“GM marketing officials and advertising leaders familiar with the company” would be code for second line managers who still have a job, and people at the Commonwealth agency that are bracing for the other shoe to drop.



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The Secret Of The Tiffany-Blue LFA, Or How Those Auto Spy Stories Are Written Fri, 29 Jun 2012 12:14:50 +0000

A mysterious Lexus LFA that went from Motomachi to (the green) hell is fueling the fantasy of bloggers. Some say the Tiffany-blue bolide belongs to the Sheikh of Qatar, who just happens to like his cars in Tiffany blue. Others say it is the LFA going out with a bang, attacking the elusive Nordschleife ring record one last time “with an engine over 600 bhp.” They all made it up.

This is not a story about the LFA. This is a story about bloggers sucking stories out of their thumbs.

Lexus LFA Picture courtesy

Most of the blogs that expect to gain traffic from the topic make you feel like they are camped out on the Ring, ready to snap the latest and fastest Erlkönig. They aren’t, and I don’t blame them. Having spent much too many rainy days at the abominable Lindner Congress Hotel, I can assure you that there are better things to do with your time. Except for specialty site, nobody covers the Ring 24/7, most of the writers don’t even know the difference between Nurburgring and Nurnberg. BridgeToGantry covers the Ring, because its editor Dale Lomas works there. At rent4ring, he rents out track day cars, from a Suzuki Swift Stage 1 all the way to a Caterham R300 (pray it won’t rain.)

All good websites get their pictures from SB-Medien, the not so good ones steal them from the websites that got their pics from SB-Medien. SB-Medien is Europe’s leading purveyor of Erlkönig imagery. SB is said to have a mutually beneficial relationship with automakers. Automakers can create buzz at just the right time. SB can position a photographer at just the right time and place. Everybody wins. Nobody wastes time and money.

Lexus LFA Picture courtesy

And this is how the Tiffany blue LFA story got started. A few days ago, SB sent out a set of baby blue LFA pictures to its subscribers. One of the first if not the first to publish was, but only because they “spent only 20 minutes to put the so-called spy photos up,” as editor Andrus Kiisküla refreshingly admits. Those 20 minutes were spent splashing a giant “” onto the image, and writing a 173 word ditty.

Gmotors’ ditty was restrained. They said that “Lexus is very likely going to introduce a new special edition of their LFA supercar, and that Gmotors “wouldn’t be surprised if this new model has over 600bhp.” Fair enough.

Lexus LFA Picture courtesy

Put yourself in the shoes of a poor, underpaid (or pro bono) writer who stares at a set of blue pictures, and there is nothing else to go on. Your choices are: Copypaste. Make it up. All of the above. A protracted game of telephone begins …

At, the baby blue car turns into an “LFA Tokyo Edition.”

Our friends at Carbuzz remember how they “almost made a mess in our pants” when they had seen the Nurburgring Edition LFA, and that “Lexus is apparently planning a new version of their LFA supercar.”

Motortrend takes a quick toke and writes: “Our automotive paparazzo on Europe recently caught this modified teal blue Lexus LFA lapping the Green Hell.” You don’t have an automotive paparazzo in Europe, motortrend. You have SB-Medien like everybody else has.

Autoblog gives the car “a fair bit more than the 552 horsepower found in the standard LFA.”

Once the story hits Motorauthority, the car has received an engine that is “pumping out significantly more than the 552-horsepower 4.8-liter V-10 found in the regular LFA.” Also, it has received a transmission that “is likely to have been reprogrammed for faster shifts.”

And on and on it goes as the story ricochets around the blogosphere.

Lexus LFA Picture courtesy

The definitely last word in supposition and innuendo is written by the Kaizen Factor. Half serious, half tongue-in-cheek, the site lists every rumor the Tiffany blue car triggered, from the meaning of the AD-A letters on the side, and the “DAU 0680” on the LFA’s red ”Überführungsnummer”, to the credible theory that the Qatari House of Thani wants to enlarge its already sizable collection of baby blue cars. Shame on Qatar (if the baby blue rumor is true): They own chunks of Volkswagen and Porsche, and now they fraternize with Toyota?

Nobody bothers to do the obvious: Check the story. None except BridgeToGanrty. Dale Lomas grabs his camera, walks over from his office to the Ring and shoots a video of a blue LFA that is still making the rounds during what seems to be Touristenfahrten times. However, Dale can only add moving pictures, again, there is no hard information.

With all options exhausted, it’s time for the absolutely last resort in news-gathering: Pick up the phone, call Toyota. When I call them, they have never heard of the baby blue LFA. I send them a few links, now they have.

They promise to ask around, and an hour later, Toyota spokesman Joichi Tachikawa says that “this test was part of the many research activities” Lexus conducts, never mind the fact that the LFA production is going into its home stretch and won’t extend beyond 2012, there still remains work to be done.

That means that at least the House of Thani theory is debunked. The rest of the fantastic prose is debunked also, as my contact convincingly claims that no detail was ever released. Therefore, all that was written in the sundry blogs is without basis.

As far as the LFA is concerned, I am sorry that I leave you as smart as before. However, you have learned one thing: How not to write supercar stories.

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Ragtops To Riches: Obscure Website Names America’s Top Topless Cars Wed, 20 Jun 2012 14:17:13 +0000

Rounding out our day of Top Ten lists, news reaches us that Total Car Score came up with a list of the Top Ten Convertible Cars for 2012.

Total Car Score Top Ten Convertible Cars for 2012























3 Series








1 Series








IS 250/350






Using an undisclosed methodology (the press release says it arrives at “one comprehensive number assigned to a vehicle that represents an overall industry assessment from major automotive authorities.” However, nobody asked us) the site lists the Mercedes-Benz E-Class as the top topless car, the Audio A5 brings up the rear. Ranked third, the Ford Mustang is the only American car on that list of cars that bare all.

We never heard of Total Car Score before, and we guess the list attempts to change that. It would help if the list of first-rate ragtops could easily be found on the site. Even a highly scientific Google search comes up empty. Total Car Score was founded by Karl Brauer, formerly Edmunds online Editor in Chief.


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Italy Seizes Gaddafi’s Stake In Fiat Wed, 28 Mar 2012 22:51:44 +0000

A year ago nearly to the day, I was investigating the connection between Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and Fiat. With an American-led intervention in Libya underway, Reuters had reported that a Wikileaked State Department document revealed that the Libyan Government owned a two-percent stake in the automaker Fiat as recently as 2006. When I contacted Fiat’s international media relations department for comment, I received this response:

Dear Mr Niedermeyer,

Further to your email, I would mention that the Reuters report you refer to is incorrect. As too are other similar mentions that have appeared recently in the media concerning the LIA’s holdings in Fiat.

The LIA sold all of its 14% shareholding in Fiat SpA in 1986 – ten years after its initial stake was bought.  It no longer has a stake in Fiat SpA.

I trust that this clarifies the matter.

It didn’t, actually. In fact the matter remained as clear as mud to me until just now, when I saw Reuters’ report that Italian police have seized $1.46 billion worth of Gaddafi assets, including “stakes in… carmaker Fiat,” under orders from the International Criminal Court.

So, did Fiat lie? Not exactly. The Libya Arab Foreign Bank did sell back its shares in 1986, but the Wikileaked memo claimed that a successor entity, the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company, was the more recent Libyan investor. Not being well-versed in the structure and history of Libya’s sanction-avoiding foreign investment shell companies, and lacking the resources to effectively pursue the story (tracking Gaddafi-era investments is a chore), I left it there. And even now that Italian police confirm that a Gaddafi-controlled stake in Fiat has been seized, it’s not at all clear whether Fiat’s management was aware of this.

The AGI has the most detailed account, reporting

The Guardia di Finanza Corps of Rome has seized property worth more than 1.1 bln euro from members of the Ghaddafi family upon a warrant of the International Criminal Court of The Hague. The property seized includes real estate, company shares and bank accounts that belong to members of the Ghaddafi family or to people of Ghaddafi’s entourage with an overall value of more than 1.1 bln euro

Property investigations carried out by the GdF of Via dell’Olmata, in Rome have enabled to discover two financing companies through which leaders of the former Libyan regime had made investments in Italy. [emphasis added]

That covers Fiat management fairly well: at the very least, it appears that they didn’t know about Libyan investment until police were involved. I might suspect that this very Gaddafi stake in Fiat was frozen by Italian authorities prior to my request for comment, and Fiat’s representative misled me about it… but I have no way of proving it. Time will (hopefully) tell.

Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, it’s only a little strange that this wasn’t somehow brought to light in pre-bailout vetting of Fiat. Sure, a foreign enemy of the United States was a significant shareholder in the firm that was handed a bailed-out Chrysler for no cash down. On the other hand, Libya was not on the War On Terror radar at the time, and the auto task force had enough to worry about without investigating Fiat’s shareholders. All the same, chalk this up as yet another example of the unintended consequences of government intervention in the economy.

Finally, there’s the real question: did Gaddafi actually benefit from his Fiat investment? It all depends on when this second investment in Fiat shares took place. The Wikileaked memo says Libya owned two percent of Fiat as of 2006, which means it was enjoying the short-lived Marchionne boom (financed in part by General Motors) after years of decline and stagnation. And when things headed south in 2008, snagging Chrysler for nothing sent Fiat stock on its last real bounce… which means the Gaddafi regime did benefit to some extent from the auto bailout. Still, with Fiat’s shares pricing at all-time lows the Libyan dictator almost certainly lost money on his Fiat investment over the years. Unless the Guardia di Finanza find evidence that Fiat’s management knew about Libyan investment, this might well be a case of “no harm no foul.”

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Dan Akerson Says First Year Sales Of Volt As Good As Prius, Grows Long Nose Tue, 13 Mar 2012 18:19:56 +0000

The repeated stoppages of the Volt production triggered rumors that GM might discontinue the Volt altogether.

Dan Akerson himself had to come to the rescue of the embattled plug-in. Saying that “we are not backing away from this product,” Akerson promised more advertising and less volume. So far, so good.

Then, Akerson did something really bad. Surprisingly, Akerson used Toyota as a benchmark and reportedly said that “Toyota sold about the same amount of Prius in its first year as the Volt in its first year.”

Utter nonsense.

It gets worse.

In the first year, the Volt sold half of what the Prius had sold in the first year. And that in a market twice the size.

It gets worse.

In the first year, the Volt sold half of what the Prius had sold in the first year. And that at a time when gasoline did cost twice as much as when the Prius was launched.

If Akerson would know more about cars, then he would not have to tell lies. He also would know that Toyota had been terribly unhappy about the initial sales of the Prius. What should give Akerson further pause are rumors from Toyota that sales of the plug-in hybrid version of the Prius, launched in Japan in January, are not going well. There are no numbers available, but all I am hearing is that the Aqua/Prius C compact hybrid is selling like hotcakes, while the plug-in Prius is collecting dust. Again from what I am hearing, people balk at the price. The regular Prius in the G trim costs 2,520,000 yen ($30,000) in Japan. The G-trim Prius plug-in hybrid costs 3,400,000 yen ($41,000). All prices including tax.

People seem to shun the plug-in, and instead go for the Prius, or its smaller sibling the Prius c. That one costs 1,850,000 yen ($22,000) in the G trim. The Prius is Japan’s best-selling car, the Aqua / Prius C has become Japan’s third-best-selling car right out of the gate. Price is a big driver of the success of a car. Price is the biggest problem of the Volt. Even with a generous (and unsustainable) subsidy, it is way too expensive. The example of the Prius Plug-in Hybrid proves an old adage in the business: People may swear up and down that no price is too high when it comes to the environment. Once in the showroom, they buy the car that makes sense.

Oh, and back to Akerson. I know how to get him out of this. He should say he was misquoted. He should say he meant calendar year. Launched in December 1997, the Prius sold 323 in that month and year. Launched in December 2010, the Volt sold 326 in that month and year. I know, it’s a lame excuse, but it beats being called a liar.

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White House Denies Delaying Chevrolet Volt Fire Announcement Mon, 16 Jan 2012 17:18:50 +0000

Obama! Socialism! Taxes! Jesus! Faith! Guns! Now that you’re paying attention, it’s time for our regularly scheduled programming. A Detroit News article claims that NHTSA is denying any interference on the part of the White House with respect to the Chevrolet Volt fires that resulted from government crash test procedures.

News of the fires only came to light in November, despite the fires occurring in June. NHTSA head David Strickland claims that the White House wasn’t informed until September. A letter sent to three Republican congressmen states that

“shortly thereafter informed the Executive Office of the President regarding the June fire and NHTSA’s test plans to determine if the fire indicated that there is a risk of post-crash fires in Chevrolet Volts. No one from the Executive Office of the President requested or in any way suggested that NHTSA delay public release of information related to the Volt fire,” 

GM previously announced a fix for the Volt’s battery pack and leaky coolant, which is said to have caused the fires. GM has yet to restart production of the Volt since the line went idle in December, and won’t be able to apply the new safety measures to the Volt until some time in February of this year.

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UAW Backs Off Transplant Organizing Goal, Attacks Hyundai Wed, 30 Nov 2011 20:23:15 +0000

At the beginning of this year, the United Auto Workers pledged that it would launch a campaign to organize the foreign-owned, non-union “transplant” factories in the US, threatening to tar uncooperative automakers as “human right abusers.” The campaign initially lost steam, but the UAW stuck to its pledge, re-iterating on several occasions that it would organize “at least one” transplant factory by the end of 2011. With one month left to accomplish that goal and no signs of progress in sight, the UAW has officially called off that goal. In fact, the UAW now hopes to simply pick an automaker to target by the end of 2011. Spokeswoman Michelle Martin tells Bloomberg

At this point, our hope is to make a decision about who we’re going to target by the end of the year. But obviously, we won’t have the organizing campaign completed by the end of the year.

This is not too surprising, considering the UAW announced last week that it would be focusing on dealership pickets initially rather than factory organizing. And sure enough, the first dealership picket has begun, targeting Hyundai dealerships. And yet, says Martin

This has nothing to do with the domestic organizing campaign. Hyundai is not the target.

Huh? If the UAW is not committing to organizing Hyundai’s assembly workers, why picket Hyundai dealerships?

The Freep explains that the union is targeting 75 Hyundai dealerships, in order to show international solidarity, a recurring theme in the presidency of UAW boss Bob King. Says King

The UAW has embraced a global vision of social justice and will mobilize its membership to defend labor rights here and in other parts of the world

So, what is the UAW picketing in solidarity with? Martin tells the Freep that Hyundai’s Korean unions are picketing across Korea to protest the firing of a worker whistleblower. According to Martin

The worker, who is employed by a Hyundai subcontractor, was fired after she reported the sexual harassment in 2010 to Korea’s National Human Rights Commission… The commission ruled in the worker’s favor and ordered the subcontractor to pay damages and rehire the worker, but the subcontractor has refused.

A UAW statement adds

Holding banners that read, “Stop Sex Discrimination at Hyundai” and “Reinstate Ms. Park,” UAW members from Los Angeles to New York, at more than 75 different dealerships, informed American auto buyers about an injustice to an autoworker on the other side of the globe.

“Though we may work for different companies and in different countries, as workers, we support each other’s struggles and know that one of the best ways to hold our employers accountable is through consumer action at dealerships,” said Mike O’Rourke, an 33-year employee and president of UAW Local 1853 at General Motors’ Manufacturing Facility in Spring Hill, Tenn.

Hyundai Motor America’s response: the worker was an employee of a subcontractor at Glovis, a Hyundai “affiliate,” therefore

the issue has nothing to do with Hyundai Motor Company

In other words, the UAW will be alienating itself from Hyundai’s US workers and dealers over one person who doesn’t even work for Hyundai. Standing on principle is great, but trying to block sales of cars will not exactly endear Hyundai’s assembly workers to the union. Meanwhile, similarly to the UAW’s last protest against Hyundai, there doesn’t seem to be as much moral clarity on this issue as the UAW would like it to appear. Of course sexual harassment has no place in the workplace, and  the circumstances of this case in particular do not sound good, but by hammering on the treatment of contracted employees, and by associating the contracter “affiliates” with the automakers they work for, the UAW opens itself up to criticism along the same lines.

The Freep is also reporting today that the UAW has called off a protest that was planned at GM’s Orion Assembly plant, over contract negotiations with a supplier at that plant. Workers at the GM affiliate supplier LINC, who organize and deliver parts for the Orion plant, make ten dollars per hour, less even than the “Tier Two” wages that most Orion assembly workers make. And yet, with GM’s stock (which funds part of the UAW’s VEBA account) remaining weak, it seems unlikely that the union will actually protest, let alone strike, over the LINC wages. Which raises a tough question for the union: why are they so concerned about transplant workers making $14.50 per hour and up when they are working alongside folks making $10 per hour? And if workers at a Hyundai supplier are Hyundai’s responsibility, why isn’t the UAW livid at GM for allowing LINC to hire workers for such low wages? And in light of these fundamental contradictions, a single case of apparent injustice half the world away seems even less relevant.

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Our Daily Saab: Muller Losing Faith, Antonov Going Down Wed, 30 Nov 2011 19:09:42 +0000

A TTAC tipster sent us a Teknikens Värld  interview with Saab’s long-suffering would-be rescuer, Victor Muller, in which the eternal Saabtimist seems ready to admit defeat. In essence, he admits that GM is unlikely to ever approve a plan involving Chinese firms, that the Chinese firms are throwing “money into a black hole” and that all the previous plans are off the table. Of course, Muller does seem to think that some kind of rescue may yet be possible, but he admits

If I doze off Saab would disappear in an instant

If Muller is losing faith, and doesn’t even have a hairbrained scenario to hype, it seems that the end may well be near. But then, the whole rescue of Saab is beginning to be eclipsed by questions about Muller’s erstwhile partner, Vladimir Antonov, who was recently bailed out of British jail, where he was being held on charges of embezzlement and document forgery. But first, to the Muller interview…

The following is an interview titled “Muller Does Not Believe In Th Chinese”:

Victor Muller doubts that GM will ever accept a Chinese Saab business. According to him, Youngman, Pang Da and Guy Lofalk sabotaged the whole business when they went from the original plan. It says Muller in an exclusive interview with the Teknikens Värld.

On the way home from Britain hits Teknikens Värld Erik Gustafsson, an unusually outspoken Victor Muller. The gate at Heathrow Airport, the plane to Stockholm, he says frank about Saab’s situation.

- This is how it goes when you put his partner in the back, says Muller continues:

- The deal was long time and the arrangement with a Chinese shareholding of 54 per cent was approved. Then began administrator Guy Lofalk run government affairs, to persuade the Chinese to a 100-percent ownership stake and GM slammed on the brakes.

Late yesterday evening, Swedish time, had GM in Detroit, a further meeting on Saab’s future, but Victor Muller strongly doubt one acceptance.

- I understand GM fully, it is clear that they do not want to jeopardize its market in China. But right now I understand the other side is not why the Chinese continue to pump money into the company. As the situation is, it just means to put money into a black hole, without getting anything back. The relationship with GM is so damaged that they (Youngman and Pang Da) can not even go back to the original plan.

While he acknowledges that the situation is tough, he means that there is a solution. He can not tell you how it looks, but he promises to fight till the end.

- If I doze off Saab would disappear in an instant

Muller may still be fighting for Saab’s future, but as prosecutors unwind the Vladimir Antonov situation, Muller could soon be forced out of the process. After all, Muller is said to have a personal debt to Antonov of upwards of €100m, and it seems highly likely that Antonov was using Muller to launder funds embezzled from his Baltic banks. Antonov ‘s sports business has been placed into bankruptcy, and he has stepped down as Chairman of the British soccer team Portsmouth, reports ESPN. And Latvian officials seem to be clear on the Saab connection as well, as the Moscow Times reports

Latvian officials on Wednesday said about 100 million lats ($200 million) was stripped out of Latvyas Kraybank to fund Antonov’s investment projects, including the ill-fated Saab bid.

And the investigation is ongoing, as BBC reports that

[Lithuanian prosecutors] said they were investigating everything that might have links to criminal offences.

They added they would be taking “all the necessary steps” to freeze assets belonging to Mr Antonov and Mr Baranauskas.

It seems inevitable that this investigation will eventually catch up to Muller, at which point he’ll have to plead ignorance of Antonov’s alleged crimes. And even if Muller does escape prosecution, his ability to organize a deal to save Saab will be fundamentally compromised by his association with Antonov. And as Muller himself says,

If I doze off Saab would disappear in an instant

The countdown continues…

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Inside Nissan’s Content Factory: Steal This Idea Immediately! Fri, 25 Nov 2011 17:00:45 +0000

Tucked into a corner of the communication department of Nissan is a Japanese rarity: A closed room. Usually, a Japanese office is a sea of people, working elbow-to-elbow without even the suggestion of a cubicle. Most of the floor in Nissan’s swank headquarters in Yokohama is just like that.

Behind the closed doors however works an unusual group of people who probably have to be kept away from the general population anyway: An international team of professional journalists that could change the way companies interact with the media.

In May, Dan Sloan started his job as the Editor in Chief and General Manager of Nissan’s Global Media Center. His first assignment was the roughest job one can imagine: Nissan’s engine factory in Iwaki restarted, only miles from the exclusion zone around the exploded Fukushima nuclear plants. People on the other side of the globe were afraid of being irradiated, and Dan Sloan showed Carlos Ghosn walking through a factory while two more reactors had a meltdown.

All other car manufacturers in Japan avoided the story. Carlos Ghosn and Dan Sloan ran with it. Remembers Sloan:

“This story was radioactive in many ways. But when these things happen, you have to get in front of the story in an adult way, you have to become part of the discussion, and make the story work for you.”

It did work. Carlos Ghosn was once more the take-charge man of Japan, and ranked high in a survey of who Japanese would like to lead them out of the crisis.

The global Media Center is a fully equipped TV studio, and a single room into which Sloan and his team are crammed. The General Manager doesn’t have a corner office, he has a corner. All of the people in the windowless room are top journalists, and that is the big difference of this experiment. In-house TV studios are nothing new, but they usually produce yawners of inspirational messages for the workforce, and possibly training segments for dealers. They also aren’t staffed with this concentration of talent. Says Sloan:

“Other companies never hired in-house people with that external degree of quality.”

If I still would own an advertising agency, I would be worried: Crammed into this room is more talent than in most agencies, and it probably comes much cheaper.

Any wire service would be lucky if it had so much talent in one room.

Dan Sloan was Singapore Bureau Chief of Reuters before he came to Tokyo as Senior Correspondent for Reuters Business TV.

His deputy Ian Rowley worked as Tokyo correspondent for Business Week for 5 years. After Business Week was bought by Bloomberg, he was Deputy Team Leader for Asia.

Coco Masters was Tokyo Bureau Chief of Time Magazine. Now she works as Ghosn’s right hand woman  at the Media Center.

Camille Lim did TV documentaries at Reuters Singapore. Now she will document Nissan’s rich history that goes back to 1914.

There is Shotaro Ogawa, Nissan’s own Mobile Uplink Unit. And there are more whose cards and resumes I forgot to collect at my visit today. I played fly-on-the-wall during their strategy meeting for the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show. It wasn’t a corporate conference, it was very much a meeting like at any TV station or magazine before a big event: Who does what, who goes where, are hotel rooms booked, and what happens if we get stuck in Tokyo traffic. The studio is small, but fully equipped. A chromakey can produce the Yokohama skyline as a backdrop, or Waikiki beach, if that is needed. The editing is done via Adobe Premiere on a Mac, in a pinch on a laptop.

Soon, the Media Center will talk about more than just Nissan. Woven into their coverage of the Tokyo Motor Show will be trends at other manufacturers. Soon, there will be a weekly talk show about the car industry in general, and possibly beyond.

When I ask Sloan what’s different from working on the outside, he says not much. He tells the story that in Japan, the media often has a symbiotic relationship with large corporations anyway. His Media Center simply makes it official without maintaining false appearances:

“We still have to pass the ‘so what?’ test with everything we do.What we want is get a buy-in that we are not dishing out unpalatable corporate-speak. We deliver something beyond ‘everything is alright at the mothership.’ We have access people would not get otherwise, we have content traditional media would be envious to get. We want to provide content other media can take advantage of.”

Magazines and TV stations have budget cuts and fire people. They are being replaced by thousands of bloggers with no money, but a lot of enthusiasm. Any website that wants to do more than just regurgitate press releases will become an eager customer of  Nissan’s inhouse content-machine. This is where Sloan is going:

“People always say we are the death of the press release. I don’t think this is going to happen so quickly. We are a value-add to press releases, they can become more concise now. What we want is something that will be redistributed, reposted, watched multiple times.”

Other carmakers should make a pilgrimage to Yokohama and try to get into that closed room. They might learn something.

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CR: VW Press Cars Don’t Match What’s On The Dealership Floor Wed, 23 Nov 2011 19:54:02 +0000

TTAC has long held that reviews of press cars made available by manufacturers at launches and press fleets must be complimented by reviews of vehicles acquired from dealer lots. It’s been a controversial position at times, and I’ve had to do battle with OEMs as recently as a few months ago to explain why dealer car impressions matter. Today, Consumer Reports is proving the point by revealing

When VW dropped off an early media car this summer, I remember looking at the trunk and saying to myself “well, at least both of the cheap hinges are dressed up with plastic covers, unlike the Jetta, which just has plastic on the side with the wiring.” As you can see in these two photos from Car & Driver and Edmunds it appears that the Passats in VW’s press fleet have covers on the hinges.

But not that Passat you just bought. No, your new Passat isn’t as nicely finished as the press version.

Like all the vehicles we put through testing, Consumer Reports buys retail samples at a car dealership. I personally purchased the Passat TDI we’re testing. (We also bought a 2.5 SE and a 3.6 SEL Premium.) As you can see in our images, none of the Passats have the two plastic covers found on the press cars. Consumers apparently only get a cover for the wiring loom hinge; the other one goes bare.

Interestingly, we had a somewhat similar issue with VW when a Passat press car proved to be equipped in a spec that is not actually available at dealerships (V6 with 17-inch wheels). When we noticed the discrepancy (and by we, I mean Michael Karesh, of course), we asked VW how we had received a non-representative model, to which they replied that press fleet vehicles were “early builds” from the new Nashville plant, and therefore not necessarily in market-ready spec. Which is a reason, but not an excuse: the media can only serve consumers well if we’re given representative cars to review. So, while these discrepancies are all relatively minor, details matter when you’re spending upwards of $20k on something. Hopefully VW and the rest of the industry will learn from this experience and make greater efforts to equip their media cars exactly to dealer spec. One also hopes that Motor Trend has driven at least one Passat that’s not from a press fleet

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Are You Safer In A Geely Emgrand, A Fiat Panda, A Jeep Grand Cherokee Or A Jaguar XF? Wed, 23 Nov 2011 19:20:27 +0000

Ask a Westerner what he or she thinks of Chinese cars, and the answer will be predictable: unsafe. Thanks to China’s slower crash test speeds and low-cost manufacturing, Chinese cars have largely not met global safety standards, and Youtube videos have long cemented the impression that Chinese cars are fundamentally unsafe. But as with any growing industry, the Chinese are stepping their game up. Far from a global embarrassment, the latest Geely Emgrand even earned four stars in Euro-NCAP testing. That’s not enough to erase China’s reputation for unsafe cars, as five star performances are rapidly becoming the standard in Europe. But it is enough to match the achievements of  other modern European cars, most notably the updated Fiat Panda. Though the Panda is considerably smaller than the Emgrand, and therefore is at something of a safety disadvantage, the price difference between the two cars is likely to be negligible, making the comparison quite interesting. Meanwhile, there are other four-star (or should we call it “Chinese Quality”?) cars in NCAP’s latest round of testing, including the considerably more expensive Jaguar XF and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Check out the reports for the XF, Panda and Emgrand in the gallery below, or surf on over to Autobild for more details on where these cars came up short on safety…

Picture 642 Picture 643 Picture 644 Picture 645 Picture 646 Picture 647 ]]> 13
UAW: The War On Transplants Is Still On, Dealers On The Front Lines Mon, 21 Nov 2011 16:32:23 +0000

With a tough negotiating session with its traditional employers now complete, the United Auto Workers are turning their focus back to the year’s primary goal: organizing the transplant factories. 2011 was supposed to be the year in which the UAW took down “at least one” foreign-owned auto plant, with the union’s boss even going as far as to say

If we don’t organize the transnationals, I don’t think there is a long-term future for the UAW

But as we found, the UAW is not welcome in the South, where most of the transplant factories are found. And with Honda, Hyundai, Toyota and VW all rejecting the UAW’s advances in some form or another, the union’s options are fairly limited. So instead of taking on the factories directly, the UAW is bringing back a questionable tactic from the days when it was misleadingly bashing Toyota for “abandoning” the NUMMI factory: they are taking the fight to dealerships.

Bloomberg reports

The United Auto Workers union, whose leader has staked its future bargaining power on organizing U.S. plants of Asian and European automakers, plans to start pressuring the companies through dealership campaigns.

Regional UAW representatives trained members about how the campaign will work at UAW Local 2209 on Nov. 19, said Mark Gevaart, president of the local in Roanoke, Indiana. The union hasn’t selected the automaker it will target and didn’t discuss when the drive will begin, he said in a phone interview.

The problem: as mentioned earlier, the UAW has already tried this on Toyota. And at the time, Toyota fired back with a pretty legitimate complaint, arguing

I still don’t understand why they are picketing our dealerships when the dealerships have nothing to do with the workers. Our workers make the ultimate decision if they want to unionize or not and for the past 25 years they have said no… Our team members want to make cars for people to buy. They don’t like it when people try to stop you from buying.

And here’s the funny part: the UAW has admitted that the dealership-picketing tactic didn’t help its cause, as President Bob King put it when he called off the last round of Toyota dealer protests

We said we were going to be the UAW of the 21st century and didn’t feel like that was accomplishing that goal

But hey, why not try it again? What’s the worst that could happen?

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